People have considered art valuable since the beginning of time. From framed pieces in royal houses to the prestigious academies, art did not fail to amuse those who appreciated its uniqueness and value. Most pieces of art from the surrealism movement or basically any other serious art movement ever, have always been deeply contemplative and philosophical. It gave the people food for thought and planted seeds of curiosity among the group of philosophers and thinkers. Nerds, basically.
But back in the day, it made art feel highly elitist and inaccessible to the masses, which technically was exactly how it was.
Around the 1950s, the nation was booming with the new found interest in popular culture. Celebrities, fashion, advertisements, films, comic books and magazine covers. The people of this industry painted all this onto our collective consciousness through media. They used permanent markers for that. Our culture undoubtedly started getting shaped by movie stars, pop musicians, fashion lines and guess what? It still is. People started wondering if it could have an effect on art and they weren’t wrong because why does art have to exclusively be traditional, unique or limited? Why can't it reflect the ideas of popular culture and be fun, cute and quirky? This is what gave birth to pop art.
Pop art was one of the most significant movements of the 20th century but what makes the art pop? Some pieces of pop art look like a collage which explains different scenarios in one painting and have a sense of sassiness to them. Others have those girls that look like they have jumped straight out of an Archie comic. Grab some POPcorn and a soda POP and be ready to dive headfirst to study some POPular paintings.
Roy Lichtenstein’s painting, “M-Maybe” which is a typical Lichtenstein with a blonde beautiful girl looking worried and waiting for her “significant other”. There’s a speech bubble in the painting which says, “M-Maybe he became ill and couldn’t leave the studio!” And we all know that “he” did not become ill and that “he” has forgotten about her.
Using thought bubbles and speech blurbs mocked the ego-driven nature of pop art and the adolescent narcissism that lies at the heart of this culture.
One painter who became so famous with his work that people made his name a synonym to pop art, was Andy Warhol. Warhol had a never-seen-before kind of style where he printed the same picture over and over again and stacked them together to create his final piece. His famous Marilyn Monroe painting is an example here. He painted five Monroes, where her eyeshadows were poppin’. Red, Orange, Light Blue, Sage blue and Turquoise, he stacked these and displayed them in his studio. Even though he popped off in 1987, his legacy lives on and so do his words, “Art is what you can get away with”.
Pop Art & India
Pop culture artists actively deconstructed current cultural trends and helped to make the masses aware of some of the ideas present at that time. Pop art has a unique position of being accessible enough to the general public to allow for a widely understood commentary because of how overt and expressive it is compared to more traditional contemplative forms of art.
India wasn’t late to the party either. Many Indian artists started getting inspired by this new idea of art and made their own way into the world of pop art. Manil and Rohit Gupta’s famous piece “BYOB” has a bright red eye-catching crater right in the middle of the painting and it is bursting with white round eyeballs. You would have to know wild drunk evenings and have lived a hangover to know that “BYOB” stands for “Bring your own booze”. It is all a symbolism for youth. Ah, to be young and drunk. That’s not the phrase, is it? Manil and Rohit’s paintings have the pop of color and so many attractive elements we didn’t know we needed in our dull grey lives.
Pop art is all about making a painting so striking that people have no choice but to look at it. Not only did pop art make a very special place for itself in our hearts but it also has a strange sense of reality to it. Roy Lichtenstein said, “Pop Art looks out into the world. It doesn’t look like a painting of something, it looks the thing itself.” Pop art is perfectly imperfect and it is absolute madness but imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.
By Manasi Telang